TAMPA, Fla. - Derick Brassard's first goal came on his team's first shot of the game Tuesday night, a promising sign of things to come.
When he finally finished scoring, the center had three goals and two assists, part of a prolific night for his line as the Rangers pulled away for a 7-3 victory over Tampa Bay, setting up Game 7 at Madison Square Garden on Friday night.
"We showed a lot of character tonight," said Brassard, who centered a line with wings J.T. Miller and Rick Nash. Each had a goal and three assists, keying a wild five-goal flurry in the final period that broke open what was a tight game.
"We had to step up, and our line was huge tonight,'' Brassard said. "I think Miller really energized our line, Nash was a beast and we just made plays and scored a lot of goals."
As strong as his opening goal was 3:36 into the game, his biggest play came early in the third. The Rangers were clinging to a 2-1 lead and had been outshot 29-18 by the Lightning in the first two periods. But a turnover by Lightning center Steven Stamkos set up a three-on-one, and Brassard got the assist on Miller's first goal of the playoffs for a 3-1 lead, opening the floodgates in the final period.
"We capitalized on our chances pretty well," said Miller, who also helped screen Lightning goalie Ben Bishop on a long goal by defenseman Keith Yandle in the first period. "Any time you get that many past such a good goalie, that's a good start. I thought we played a pretty straight-up good hockey game."
Brassard scored his second goal for a 5-1 lead, part of a string of four goals in a span of five minutes, and added an empty-net goal with 1:41 left to earn a rare playoff hat trick.
The last Ranger to pull that off was Michael Nylander in 2007 against the Atlanta Thrashers.
"That's the way we need to play with the lead," Brassard said. "We were really hungry on the forecheck. We wanted to make plays. We didn't want to sit back against that team."
The seven goals matched the second-most ever against the Lightning in a playoff game. It also shifted the momentum squarely back to the Rangers, who are 7-0 at home all-time in Game 7s.
Nash said the Rangers will need every bit of their home-ice advantage to finish off a series that already has seen momentum shift sharply from one game to the next.
"We need our home fans to be as loud as they always are," said Nash, who scored a power-play goal midway through the third period. "That's the reason why we get rewarded for winning the Presidents' Trophy is to have these games at home."